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Stop spraying my salad stuff. September 25, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I absolutely hate the fact that for years, I haven’t been able to approach the lettuce display in the produce section of a grocery without being attacked blasts of misted water. If I’d wanted to be sprayed with water, I’d have stayed home and taken a shower, or, say, gotten into a water-pistol fight with our friend Ben.

Worse still, I now have to bag up dripping produce, which is, you may have noticed, not at all happy or even willing to go inside a plastic produce bag. (Which is already hard enough to open, not unlike those hateful childproof bottle caps. But I digress.)

But far worse than any of this is the indisputable fact that constantly being sprayed with water causes produce to rot much faster than it would if it were left dry. A bunch of sprayed cilantro barely lasts long enough to rush home and use within the first two hours before it collapses into an oozing, slimy mess. And imagine what perfect conditions for the growth of bacteria and mold are created by keeping produce constantly moist? Yum!

I always wondered why nobody else ever talked about this, why people weren’t trying to stop it. Then, finally, I found an article this past week on the Yahoo! Finance site, “How Whole Foods ‘Primes’ You to Shop,” by Martin Lindstrom (September 20, http://finance.yahoo.com/). Mr. Lindstrom’s new book, Brandwashing, investigates how marketers alter our perception of reality by using what he calls “symbolics,” cues that remind us of good things, to get us to pay up for their products. The article, which I recommend to everyone, provides some fascinating examples of this omnipresent manipulation.

Obvious examples of symbolics include seeing a red valentine heart and thinking of love and/or romance, or smelling charcoal grilling and thinking of steak or burgers. In the context of the article, Mr. Lindstrom discussed how goods that would keep perfectly well simply refrigerated were displayed on ice in Whole Foods to up the perception of freshness.

And then, there it was: “Similarly, for years now supermarkets have been sprinkling select vegetables with regular drops of water—a trend that began in Denmark. Why? Like ice displays, those sprinkled drops serve as a symbolic, albeit a bogus one, of freshness and purity. Ironically, that same dewy mist makes the vegetables rot more quickly than they would otherwise. So much for perception versus reality.”

Thank you, Martin Lindstrom!!! But “ironically,” nothing. This way, the markets win twice: First, by persuading customers to buy Broccoli in the Mist. And then, by forcing them to return and buy produce much more often than they’d otherwise have to because their produce has rotted prematurely. This is disgracefully wasteful, in terms of gas, time, and water as well as produce. And you can just bet you’re ponying up a little extra for that parsley to pay for the mist-machine and its ongoing operation.

Big deal, you may be thinking, why don’t you just stop whining and dry it off when you get home? First, it’s already been in the mist for who-knows-how-long, so both the decomposition and the spread of greeblies has already started. Second, I have better things to do with my time than spend hours trying to get every drop of water off produce that shouldn’t have been wet to begin with. Third, I’d never succeed in getting all the water out of those poor veggies, so rot-inducing organisms could still be lurking. And fourth, I like to reuse produce bags to store, say, halves of onions, extra greens, things I’ve harvested from my own garden, cheese, homemade bread, and the like, instead of buying plastic storage bags. Trying to dry out the water-slicked interior of a bag used for sprayed produce is futile.

At any rate, I was overjoyed to see someone actually talking about this, even if it was in a finance forum rather than in a health or sustainable ag context. It’s a start.

And by the way, if you’re in a grocery and see a woman frantically digging through the lettuce or scallions trying to find the driest head or bunch, or leaping back muttering after (inevitably) being hit with the damned mist just as I’d finally found a quasi-dry specimen, or cursing while trying to a) open or b) shove a piece of wet produce into a produce bag, please head on over and introduce yourself. I’d be pleased to meet you!

             ‘Til next time,

                       Silence

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Comments»

1. Mike Timonin - September 26, 2011

I have no advice re: misting (other than “shop at the farmer’s market”, but I assume you already do that.) However, re: produce bags – you can buy some nice reusable ones. We have a set of course mesh ones – I think they’re hemp? – and a set of micromesh ones. They drain easily, allow your veggies to breath, and they don’t weigh much more than the plastic ones. Plus, they open nicely. The clerk will look at you oddly, but that can’t be helped. You do have to remember to take them with you, which is tricky.

Thanks so much, Mike! I hadn’t heard of the reusable veggie bags. Breathable is great! I know what you mean about having to remember to take them—I have to leave my “cloth” grocery bags right by the front door so I remember to grab them en route to the grocery or farmers’ market. (Which, alas, is only open two days a week here.) I’ll look into those!

2. Mike Timonin - September 27, 2011

Here, we have a downtown farmers’ market on Tuesdays and Fridays, plus a Saturday market just outside of town. The problem for us is finding time to visit the weekday markets, and waking up early enough to get the good stuff on Saturday.

3. Becca - September 28, 2011

Ha! Silence, I just read this article as well. Thanks for reminding me of where to find it. I was giving James the marketing breakdown the other day when we went grocery shopping. :)

I thought it was fascinating, Becca! You can bet I’ll keep my eyes open next time I’m in the store!

4. Alan from Roberts Roost - September 30, 2011

As a producer and seller at farmers markets, I have to say I mist some things, especially on hot days. Basil can’t be iced, and wilts quickly if it’s not standing in water and/or misted frequently. Same with some other greens.

I’ve found that wetness is a factor in storage life, but freshness is a bigger factor. What you find at the grocery is already old, and needs all the wilt suppressent it can get. Leaving it dry wont make it last that much longer.

Thanks for adding perspective here, Alan! I do assume that you gently mist as needed, though, as opposed to soaking your produce and your customers with near-continuous blasts of spray!


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